Among the verdant, rolling hills of Italy’s Valpolicella region near Verona, winemakers have been turning out wine since ancient Greek times. Once we’d soaked up Verona’s architectural splendor, and had seen Juliet’s Balcony, we traded city life in fair Verona for a wine-tasting excursion in the countryside, replete with the region’s famed Amarone and Valpolicella wine.
The Modena Cathedral offers an elegant canvas onto which to watch the world go by in this enchanting northern Italian city. Commuters pedal past its weathered walls on bikes; a gentleman reads a newspaper on its stairs, made smooth from hundreds of years of wear; children ride sculpted lions, which appear to blush at times because of their pink marble composition; and a couple embraces. We found that it’s also enjoyable to change perspective and look at the bustling piazza and lively cafés while sitting atop the cathedral’s foundation, something we did one sunny afternoon while enjoying a picnic of twisted breadsticks, Sicilian cheese, and Pesto Genovese, which we procured from Modena’s nearby Albinelli Market.
In some ways, the Mercato Albinelli in Modena, Italy is less like a covered market and more like a gallery showcasing fine art. One artist exhibits his prize, plump strawberries; another her handmade golden tortelloni; while another puts the finishing touches on links of sausage. During our shopping missions at this fresh market in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region so renowned for its Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, traditional balsamic vinegar, and Ferraris and Maserati motors, everyone seemed to be plain cheery.
Shortly before the centuries-old bell tower tolled five o’clock, a crowd of uninvited and surprise guests huddled together on Modena’sPiazza Grande to celebrate a marriage. A crisp-white Fiat dressed in balloons stood guard on the cobbled Italian town square, ready to whisk the new couple away.
After kicking off with a rich shot of espresso, we slipped into black ‘Chef for a Day’ aprons for the beginning of our cooking class in Modena, Italy. In strolled our instructor, Chef Massimiliano ‘Max’ Telloli of the Osteria Stallo del Pomodoro restaurant, wearing a kelly green chef’s hat, a warm smile, and an enthusiastic willingness to share Emilia-Romagnan cuisine with us.
A Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese-maker transports approximately 230 kilos (500 pounds) of the prized cheese at the Hombre Farm outside of Modena, Italy. An organic wheel of this magnificent cheese sells for approximately 700 Euros ($975 USD), and is typically aged for 24 months. Hombre is able to produce about twelve of these wheels a day.
Modena cheese maker Carlo has been producing Parmigiano-Reggiano for more than 50 years. Still, the farmer-turned-cheesemaker does not tire of the prized Italian cheese. “I always have Parmigiano-Reggiano in my mouth. (When not at work) I constantly keep eating it,” he joked, as we toured the Hombre Organic Cheese Farm in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, just outside of Modena. The opportunity to learn about another Modena prized delicacy, traditional balsamic vinegar, would be next our next stop.
As we strolled the cobbled streets of Modena, Italy, surrounded by the graceful city’s earth-toned buildings, we couldn’t help but feel that we were back in an exotic part of the world that doesn’t often see visitors. The portico-packed, elegant lanes were decidedly Italian in architectural character, but locals seemed to approach us at every turn, asking us to take their photograph, curious about our story and what brought us to Modena. The latter certainly wasn’t a phenomenon that either one of us had ever encountered in Italian tourist meccas such as Florence, Rome, or Venice, but here in Modena, we visitors seemed a bit like a rarity, and that made interactions come even more effortlessly.
It is often said that the third time’s a charm… Though I don’t believe that even the most hapless travel endeavor could ever be classified as a failure – because the opportunity to learn about oneself or the wonderful world is so great – my third visit to Venice was still certainly the most enchanting. My first forays past Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Bridge of Sighs were too hurried and the second jaunt was too claustrophobic given Carnevale celebrations.